Physical Therapists Want Every Person Over 50 To Try This Simple 5-Minute Routine for Hip Pain

You've probably heard that aches and pains can add up as quickly as the candles on your birthday cake. And while hip mobility is a common cause of pain in people over 50, it often starts much younger.

"Research shows that people start developing osteoarthritis, or joint wear-and-tear, as early as in their 30s," explains Jennifer Self Spencer, PT, DPT, CLT, OCS, the owner of Magic City Physical Therapy in Birmingham, Alabama. "Individuals in their 50s are likely to be feeling the effects of arthritis, which is characterized by achy, stiff joints in the morning and after prolonged inactivity."

Your mind may be telling you to stay in bed, but Spencer says movement can be medicine—specifically a hip mobility routine. "Movement may be the last thing you want to do when you have pain, but activity is one of the best things you can do when you do have aches and pains," Spencer says.

Spencer and another physical therapist have shared a five-move hip mobility routine that'll have you feeling better in no time.

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Why Do People Have Hip Mobility Issues?

The most common culprit of hip mobility issues is a sedentary lifestyle. And unfortunately, that's most of us: Even people who work out 30 minutes daily may spend tons of time sitting at a computer.

"Our society tends to be more sedentary during the day, and a prolonged sitting position can contribute to muscle shortening and joint stiffness," Spencer says.

Other times, it's a literal result of wear and tear. "Hip pain can be related to the hip joint itself for reasons such as arthritis, impingement or labral tears," says Zach Johnston, PT, DPT, OCS, of Providence Saint John’s Health Center’s Performance Therapy in Santa Monica, California. "It can also come from muscle or tendon strains, ligament sprains or bursitis."

Why You Should Try a Hip Mobility Workout

Spencer says that inactivity can weaken the muscles, stiffen the joints and make it more challenging to move over time.

"Most people have heard the saying, 'If you don’t use it, you lose it,'" Spencer says. "Being able to rotate your hips fully and easily is not only important for many daily activities, including walking, getting dressed, and putting on shoes and socks, but also for activities like walking, pickleball and playing with grandchildren."

Mobile hips will also help you feel steadier on your feet, reducing fall risks and rescuing you from further and worse pain. "Having an imbalance in hip mobility can cause a person to compensate and move too much or too little from neighboring joints," Johnston says. "This can increase the risk for injury and prolonged pain."

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The Easiest Hip Mobility Routine

This is the easiest, best hip mobility routine to incorporate into your daily life, according to Johnston.

Single Knee to Chest

To perform this exercise, Johnston says to:

  1. Lay flat on your back.

  2. Pull one knee towards your chest, leaving the other stretched out straight.

  3. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

  4. Repeat 2-4 times.

"This exercise should be felt in the gluteal muscles and partially in the hamstring muscles," Johnston says. "This exercise is great because it works on hip flexion range of motion."

Figure Four Stretch

This classic post-workout stretch is also a good one for hip mobility. Johnston explained how to do it.

  1. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.

  2. Cross the ankle of one leg over the knee of the opposite leg. "Make it look like it is in the shape of the number four."

  3. Pull the knee supporting the other leg toward the chest to feel a deeper stretch.

  4. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

  5. Repeat 2-4 times.

"This exercise is great because it works on hip external rotation," Johnston says.

Butterfly Stretch

The butterfly stretch can work the abductor muscles on the inside of the thighs, opening up hip mobility, Johnston says. To do the butterfly stretch:

  1. Sit up tall on the ground or on a bed with your knees bent and pointing out to the side.

  2. Press the bottoms of your feet together. "Your legs should look like they are making butterfly wings," Johnston explains.

  3. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

  4. Repeat 2-4 times.

"This exercise is great because it works on hip abduction range of motion," Johnston says.

Hip Flexor Lunge Stretch

Lunges are often used as a way to build leg strength. But they can also help with hip mobility. Spencer shares you can do an elevated version on a stair or step.

  1. Elevate one foot up on a stair or step.

  2. Keep your opposite foot straight with the heel planted on the ground.

  3. Translate your weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip on the back leg, your glutes on the forward leg, and your calf muscles on the back leg. Step your back foot back further if you desire a deeper stretch.

  4. Keep your pelvis neutral by not arching your low back. Hold onto stair rails if needed for balance.

No stairs? No problem. Johnson explains you can do it on the floor too.

  1. Come into a lunge position where one knee is on the ground beneath you, and the foot of the opposite leg is flat on the ground in front of you.

  2. Bend the knee slightly less than 90 degrees.

  3. Lunge forward toward your front leg, keeping the trunk upright.

  4. Hold for 15-30 seconds.

  5. Repeat on the other side.

  6. Repeat steps 1-5, 2-4 times.

Johnston loves that lunges work on hip extensions, giving you more range of motion.

90-90 Stretch

Work your angles (no math skills required) and hip mobility with this simple exercise. Johnston gave a step-by-step:

  1. Sit upright.

  2. Bend the knees, placing your feet flat on the ground about shoulder-width apart.

  3. Slowly allow both legs to fall to one side while slightly rotating your body to the same side.

"This exercise is great because it works on hip external and internal rotation," Johnston says.

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When to Skip Movement

Movement can be a great antidote to hip pain, but there are times physical therapists suggest skipping it."If your hip pain is very sharp, lingering, or prevents you from doing any of your usual daily or recreational activities, you should consult a physical therapist to determine the right course of action," Johnston says.

Also, if you feel pain during the movements, stop—you want to feel better, not worse."You should hold off on exercise if your hip pain prevents you from being able to do any movements without pain or if you have specific instructions regarding movements you should not perform from a physician or physical therapist," Johnston says. "Otherwise, there are few reasons to let hip pain completely prevent you from exercising."

Next up: 7 Physical Therapist-Approved Exercises for Tight Shoulders